PRIMARY and Secondary Education Minister, Dr Lazarus Dokora has said schools are not churches and so all religious beliefs should be given the same respect at all learning institutions.

In an interview with The Sunday Mail Society, Dr Dokora said: “Stakeholders in the education sector should be able to separate schools from churches, it is true that everyone belongs to one religion or the other but when it comes to public educational institutions, bounds should be adhered to.

“Teachers are not the problem in this issue because they are professionals who were trained and they know the dos and don’ts in their work.”

Dr Dokora said as the minister responsible for Primary and Secondary education his ministry is emulating the South African model on religion and education.

“In terms of policy implementation, Zimbabwe and South Africa work hand in hand. If South Africa does something good and developmental it is prudent to copy.

“This is what we have done in regard to the religion education model,” he said.

Dr Dokora said the ministry has taken a leaf from the South African model were religious issues at public learning institutions are treated alike.

Last week, the High Court in Johannesburg, South Africa handed down a ruling on religion in public schools, saying that schools should not promote one religion.

“The ruling stated that religious observances may be conducted at state or state-aided institutions, provided that:

(a) Those observances follow rules made by the appropriate public authorities;

(b) They are conducted on an equitable basis; and

(c) Attendance at them is free and voluntary.”

Dr Dokora said constitutionally it is wrong and unacceptable for schools to promote one faith or one religion primarily at the expense of others or allow school staff to do so.

“No one in the education sector be it teachers or stakeholders should promote the interests of any one religion in favour of others.

“It is in the interest of Zimbabwean democracy that public schools are not allowed to promote a particular religion, but that the choice of religion lies with pupils,” emphasised Dr Dokora.

A fortnight ago, while addressing the Zimbabwe Religious Board in Chitungwiza, Dr Dokora said every child has a right to belong to any religion and school authorities should adjust their timetable to ensure that pupils are not disadvantaged.

“In 2013 the new Constitution stipulated the rights for education and religion. There is nowhere in the constitution where it is written that the religion of this country is this but there is a section where it states the freedom of conscience.

“It means everyone is free to worship any religion and there are those who believe in Islam, Apostolic sects (Masowe) Bahai and Buddhism.”

In the past some school children have been barred from attending lessons due to their religious related dressing or conduct.

In 2007, Farai Benjamin Dzvova had been barred from attending school because of dreadlocks.

Zvikomborero Chadambuka, a lawyer with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights petitioned the Constitutional Court representing Dzvova.

The Supreme Court then ruled that expelling dreadlocked pupils from schools on grounds of their hairstyles is illegal.